If the stage can be a pulpit, then Jenny Lewis filled the pews Friday night at the Palace Theatre.
As one of the first stops on Lewis’ On the Line Tour, we were her congregation, choir, and feedback loop, and she gave us the confessionals we needed to hear. We absolved one another of our sins, and we got down to the music.
Gone were the rainbows of 2014’s The Voyager, replaced by a generalized “southwestern” look onstageas Lewis and band started things off with a trio off of the super fresh On the Line. She initially stayed behind her tricked-out keyboard to deliver a majestic “Heads Will Roll,” which received appropriate whoops from the crowd at the lyrics’ mention of Duluth.
After a percolating “Wasted Youth,” Lewis stepped out from behind the keys, resplendent in gold sequins, to rock things up with a favorite from The Voyager, “Head Underwater.” If the new songs have a certain well-earned elegance, the older tracks were a shot in the arm.
Apart from a gag where Lewis “called” the Palace from an old-school phone on her keyboard to say, “What’s up, St. Paul?” and the obligatory “How are you feeling out there?” comments, Lewis and the band kept it all business.
The Rilo Kiley song “Silver Lining” felt slowed down but still driving, and Lewis played some mean drum sticks on “Happy,” a song from her 2006 solo debut, Rabbit Fur Coat. On record, “The Voyager” is a spare track, but in concert Lewis and the band stretched and dubbed it out, making it a fuller experience.
Another song Lewis recorded on Rabbit Fur Coat, “Born Secular,” served as the emotional center for the show. Played under red—and only red—lighting, the beautiful song soared to a finish with an extended guitar freak-out. It was an anti-moment of silence, a communion for non-believers.
On the Line’s funky “Little White Dove” gave the crowd lots and lots of pink and blue balloons to play with for the next couple of songs, and the muscular backbeat of The Voyager’s “She’s Not Me” forced some feet to move in the packed general admission area. Lewis began singing “On the Line” on her stage phone, giving the already confessional song extra intimacy, simulating the uncomfortable fun of eavesdropping.
“Let’s try an experiment,” Lewis said before beginning the main set closer, Rilo Kiley’s 2002 song “With Arms Outstretched.” She asked her crowd, her people, to turn on their cell phone flashlights, and asked the Palace, “Turn all the lights off. Let’s make that shit sparkle.”
Sparkle she did. Lewis became a gold sequined mirror ball, soaking in hundreds of tiny suns and reflecting that light and warmth back to her choir. Lewis sang not just for the crowd, but with the crowd.
The encore began with the pretty piano-based “Dogwood,” from the new record. Then Lewis quickly oozed into a very different version the beloved 2004 Rilo Kiley song “Portions for Foxes.” It’s been described as a “lounge” version online, but that sells it short. Friday’s quieter take may have sacrificed some of the song’s immediacy, but none its overall power. When Lewis had the crowd yell “come here” at the appropriate time, it was, in its unexpeced way, cathartic. She threw in the line, “2018 was bad news,” but it left one to wonder: What part of the year?
Lewis capped off the evening with “See Fernando,” off 2008’s Acid Tongue. Band introductions, one more bow for the congregation, and then church was out. There’s nothing wrong with preaching to the choir when the music is this good.
Click here to see a photo slideshow of Jenny Lewis at the Palace
Heads Will Roll
Little White Dove
She’s Not Me
Red Bull & Hennessy
Just One of the Guys
On The Line
With Arms Outstretched
Portions for Foxes
The crowd: A First Avenue crowd, but bigger, and occasionally fancier. Sport coats mixed with hoodies, and sweaters mixed with studs—sometimes on the same person.
Overheard in the crowd: Lewis fan 1: “Should we get a Red Bull and Hennessy?” Lewis fan 2: “I don’t know, should I punch you in the face?”
About the opener: Watching Chicago MC Serengeti’s performance, something between lounge rap and a sleazier Enigma, was like witnessing a nervous breakdown set to Enya. As two keyboardists coaxed new-agey synth waves, the excitable rapper spit lines like “I wanted to be a food stylist, but ended up at Little Caesars.” Serengeti hit us with bowel-shaking bass, yelped about taking your ketamine, and provided an unhinged spectacle.
Random notebook dump: I heard more than one conversation about somebody being the worst parent ever. What’s the deal, Lewis fans? Get it together!